Brain Injuries: Risk Of Suicide May Increase Three Fold After A Concussion

brainI’m part of a nation-wide group of lawyers who regularly exchange articles and other information with one another about brain injury cases.

This week, we were having an online discussion about suicide, and we shared a study from earlier this year finding that persons who have suffered even a single concussion may be at a much higher risk for suicide.

What really struck me is how these risks apply to my clients.

In a Scientific American article about the study, Dr. Donald Redelmeier, one of the study’s lead authors stated:

The typical patient I see is a middle-aged adult, not elite athlete.  And the usual circumstances for acquiring a concussion are not while playing football; it is when driving in traffic and getting into a crash, when missing a step and falling down a staircase, when getting overly ambitious about home repairs — the everyday activities of life.

These are the things we routinely see in our practice. Over the last year, I’ve represented clients who have had brain injuries in car wrecks, bicycle wrecks, slip-and-fall accidents, and more.

Too often the diagnoses of these injuries is slow, and in many cases, not recognized until very late in the process.   This delays the treatment, including the psychological treatment, that clients need to help them start the road to recovery from these devastating injuries.


Is Football Affecting Your Case?

American football on white background.

Summer is over and football is back.  My University of Texas Longhorns are off to a great start with a big season-opening win over Notre Dame.  Even my daughter’s high school is 2-0.  Everything about football season is great, right?

Maybe not.

You see, football season may be affecting your case.

Earlier this week, the Atlantic published a concerning story about a study from LSU economists Naci Mocan and Ozkan Eren, who found that the results of college football games affect how judges rule.  The story states:

In looking at decisions handed down by judges in Louisiana’s juvenile courts between 1996 and 2012, the pair found that when LSU lost football games it was expected to win, judges — specifically those who had earned their bachelor’s degrees from the school — issued harsher sentences following the loss.  When the team was ranked in the top 10 before the losing game, kids wound up behind bars for about two months longer, on average.  When the team was not as highly ranked, it was a little more than a month.

This was a pretty broad study, looking at over 8,200 cases involving 207 judges.  The economists screened for the kids’ behavior in court, economic background, and even tested placebos through non-LSU games, and none of those factors had the same impact as football.

Some have criticized the findings, but the economists hope that their research will strengthen a growing body of evidence that suggests emotions influence unrelated decisions and that the study will perhaps help judges become aware of the decision-making and make the judges more careful.

That emotion is an issue.  Those of us who are trial lawyers know that jurors and judges often make emotional decisions and then try to subconsciously rationalize those decisions through their view of the logic of the case.  We’ve factored in for that.  But I guess now, we need to start asking jurors in voir dire about their football teams too.

Having said all that, enjoy Friday Night Lights, college football and the NFL this weekend.


Posted on: September 9, 2016 | Tagged

Head Injuries and Concussions — From Players’ Perspective

If you know me, you know I’m a huge University of Texas sports fan.  Because of that, I’m a huge fan of the Longhorn Network.  Usually, the stories just relate to my sports passion, but in light of David Ash’s retirement from football due to his repeated concussions, the LHN ran a great piece that talked with three former UT players about their battles with concussions.

Watching it, one thing that stood out to me was something that we see in our practice (and which the science backs up), and that is, once you have had a concussion (or multiple concussions), it takes a smaller impact to re-injure the brain.  Additionally, with a history of concussions, the symptoms appear to get worse.

If you have any interest in head injuries, concussions or sports, I highly recommend the story below.

NCAA Settles Its Own Concussion Lawsuit

I’ve written often about the lawsuits between the NFL and former professional football players regarding their concussions.  Now, the NCAA is settling (or at least trying to settle) its own lawsuit about sports-related concussions.

Under the proposed class action settlement, the NCAA will fund a $70 million pool of money to pay for former college athletes to undergo testing to determine whether they have brain injuries.  The settlement will also have the NCAA set mandated “return to play” policy that all schools must follow instead of letting each school have its own policy.  This would obviously help protect athletes in the future.

The settlement does not pay the athletes any damages for their concussions.  Instead, the athletes would still have to sue their former schools or other parties to recover those damages.  The test results that the NCAA is funding might be able to play a part in the eventual lawsuits.

This settlement is a long way from being final.  It has to be approved by a judge and there are a number of people who intend to object to the settlement on various grounds.  We’ll try to keep you posted because I think these type of developments are crucial to bringing public light to head injuries and they also help lead to better protocol for all levels of sports, not just colleges.


Here’s an ESPN news story about the settlement.

Head Injuries: New Settlement In NFL Concussion Lawsuit

helmet smallYou may recall that the previous settlement agreement between the National Football League and a class of former players was scrapped by the judge, who was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough funds to fully compensate the injured players who sustained head injuries.

Yesterday, the parties entered into a new settlement agreement.  Unlike the last settlement, this settlement isn’t capped at any specific amount.  This ensures that any former player who develops a qualifying neurocognitive condition will be compensated for the injury.

This is an interesting way forward.  Obviously, we represent a number of clients who have sustained head injuries, so I know the ways that these types of injuries can affect someone.  But I’ve also done some work on class actions, and it’s highly unusual to craft a settlement that doesn’t have a cap on the damages.  It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds and whether the ultimate amount paid out will surpass the $765 million that was being set aside in the prior agreement.

New Research Combats Linear and Rotational Forces with Contact Athletic Helmets

Hits to the head can cause traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Such hits are extremely common in many contact sports, including football, placing the risks involved in play under close scrutiny in recent years.

Not many think about the consequences of head injuries on the field. Many are more interested in who was tackled and what the score is, even if there was headbutting along the way. Unfortunately, this lack of concern extends to current equipment design: football helmets are not sufficiently constructed to prevent traumatic brain injuries.

Currently, TBI occurs 1.7 million times per year in the U.S., and roughly 20 percent of cases are the direct result of athletic activity. Many of these head injuries also include concussions, a precursor to long-term brain damage. Thankfully, researchers are now examining standards for a better, safer helmet — one that can withstand both linear and rotational force, the two types of dynamic forces players experience during a football game.

Existing football helmets are designed to withstand linear force, but they neglect the impact rotational force can have. Linear hits are direct, centered, frontal hits that push the head straight backwards. Helmets can blunt linear force effects to a certain extent, but they do not accommodate for rotational hits, known to cause about 40 percent of today’s sporting head injuries.

Rotational hits happen because of the round shape of a helmet. Some frontal hits bounce off the helmet’s crown. Typically, those hits slide to the side with a shearing motion, shaking the brain in the process. This phenomenon may even occur after low-impact hits. A combination of these two types of hits can cause serious head injuries and long-term cognitive problems.

Researchers in Florida are hoping to create a helmet that offers two kinds of protective chambers to cushion the skull and help the brain remain stable when hit. The proposed design layers non-Newtonian and Newtonian fluids. Non-Newtonian fluids are typically gels. Newtonian fluids include air and water. Ideally, the two layers would work together to offer protective padding and to reduce impacts to the head by absorbing the energy of a hit and distributing it evenly across the helmet’s surface.

It’s a unique concept. One layer receives the force of a hit, which compresses the fluid in that layer. Because of that layer’s compression, the fluid expands through a tube to the next layer, which acts to neutralize the force. Once pressure is removed, the protective chambers rebound to their original states (meaning, among other things, that the helmets could be used repeatedly). The new design is effective in the lab, but wider testing needs to be performed in partnership with companies interested in producing the helmets.

These helmets may also have applications for athletes in other sports, firefighters, construction workers, motorcyclists, cyclists, skateboarders and soldiers. They should be as effective for children as for adults. The protective layers are designed to be inexpensive, and they may be produced to retrofit existing helmets.

These safety developments are exciting, especially when one considers that in 2013, NFL penalty statistics reveal that each football player sustained at least one illegal hit to the neck or head in virtually every game.

Checking a player for concussion may not be enough

A 30-year-old football player died as a result of complications associated with degenerative brain disease.

When the nation first became aware of the issues surrounding traumatic brain injury, it was noted that is seemed to be confined to older players who had seen their fair share of bone crunching scrimmages during their career.

Then, younger players began taking their lives and a whole new can of worms opened up —- traumatic brain injury did not just affect older players, it seemed. It stalked everyone who played a contact sport, regardless of age or sex.

Recently, a 30-year-old former quarterback went missing in the woods while on a fishing trip. He was found dead, with no signs that suggested he took his own life. He had been drinking and was found lying in his own vomit. His official cause of death was pneumonia due to inhaling his body fluids.

However, the pathologist also found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was a contributing cause in the former player’s death. Due to the CTE, the young man was disoriented and suffering from paranoia. The amount of alcohol found in his body was rated as negligible.

In examining the deceased’s playing history, it was discovered that during his career on the field, he had only suffered one concussion. Despite sustaining a recognizable concussion, which coaching staff felt was mild, he was put back in the game and only told to come out at halftime. Further reports showed he was also vetted by a bevy of doctors who cleared him to play in further games.

The lesson is that even “mild” concussions have the capacity to seriously affect a player. When the young man was put back into game play, with a concussion, and cleared to play more games, his fate was sealed. It is time the name of the game is safety for the player and not winning at all costs – a cost that includes the destruction of a person’s normal life due to brain injury and/or their subsequent death.

For those who participate in contact sports, you need to know that if you are not thoroughly briefed on the risks of playing and sustaining traumatic brain injury (TBI), and there was negligence present, such as being put back into the game without being pulled out immediately, you have a right to sue for compensation.

Posted on: October 15, 2013 | Tagged

Kids Safety: Kids and Sports – How much is too much?

This morning’s Austin American Statesman ran a great story entitled Kids and Sports: How much is too much?

The premise of the article, which was written by a Dallas doctor,  is that kids and parents’ increasing focus on some sports is dangerous for our kids.

There are a number of issues.  Kids now are much more likely to play one sport year-round, leading to over-use injuries.  Kids now engage in weight-training that is far superior to anything a few years ago, which leads to kids being bigger, stronger and faster, but also over-taxing their bodies, particularly their weaker growth plates.  And, the doctor argues, more and more parents and kids are trying to force themselves back into action before the kids are fully healed.

The doctor also focuses on two things that have been an emphasis for us.  One is the rise of competitive cheerleading.  The United States Sports Academy finds that cheerleading is responsible for the most catastrophic female sports injuries in the US (second only to football overall).  The USAA reports that many cheerleading injuries and falls do more damage than being tackled by a professional football player.

The second issue is the rise in head injuries.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost half a million kids visit emergency rooms each year for traumatic brain injuries — many from sports.  The doctor said that in the week before writing the article, she had treated a volleyball player with a head injury and two dancers who sustained head injuries as a result of a head-to-head collision.

We are unwittingly hurting our kids, and that shouldn’t be acceptable.

Even worse, we may be destroying their love of the various games.  The doctor cites a study that finds that by age 13, 70 percent of kids drop out of youth sports.  As the doctor says, “What could have been a lifelong source of exercise or fun competition is discarded due to injuries, stress and burnout.”

The article hits home with me.  I have a 13 year old daughter who is passionate about her dance team, and I have a 10 year old son who loves to play baseball.  I hope to take the article to heart and make sure that we’re not making the same mistakes as others.


Is Football Season Also Concussion And Lawsuit Season?

We’re fired up in Texas.  It’s finally game-week for the start of college and high school football.  At my house, we’re making lists of things we need for our beginning of the season barbecue, finalizing our tailgate plans, and starting to hydrate (with a 100 degree temps at kickoff and with our seats being in the sun, we have to plan ahead for these things).

But earlier this week, I also saw a story this week that reminded me about the legal nature of football.   It seems the parents of a Frostburg State University football player who died as a result of head injuries has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the head coach, the player’s helmet manufacturer and the NCAA.  The lawsuit alleges that the school’s practices required players to repeatedly engage in a drill that involved nearly non-stop, head to head collisions.  The suit alleges that this several players suffered concussions in this drill.

While football is a naturally violent game, we’re likely to see more of these lawsuits as we learn more about the nature of football-related head injuries.  Hopefully the increased publicity surrounding head injuries in football will lead to manufacturers making better helmets and coaches and medical staff being more cautious with athletes who have experienced concussions.  While you can’t ever get rid of head injuries, these type of things will help reduce their incidence and severity.

Coaches are behind the times when it comes to traumatic brain injury

Even though traumatic brain injury is receiving more attention than every before, many coaches are lagging behind when it comes to doing something about it.

For many areas of the U.S., football is the social stitching that holds the fabric of a community together. Playoffs are a time of intensity, hard-hitting action, and a stand jammed pack with locals watching for those rough-and-tumble plays. More often than not, many in the stands are even secretly anticipating the sound of helmets crunching against each other, as one player takes another down. The crowd figures “seeing stars” is a normal part of the game. It is not.

This most recent off-season brought news of two National Football League (NFL) players taking their own lives. Along with that also came news that former NFL players were suing the League for keeping critical information from them relating to brain trauma and how it could affect them in the long-term. The time to do something about brain injuries is long past, and there is a lot of catching up to do, much of it by small-townfootball coaches.

Witness the case of a small rural high school, with a football team of go-getters, raring to make a name for themselves. During their practice scrimmages, several players get their “bells rung.” They keep on playing. One cannot recall what happened on the field of a most recent game. He was hit so hard, his memories only include being carried off the field, but he does not know why.

He did get hit. Hard. He is still trying to recover some semblance of normalcy in his daily life, but after four concussions in a short period of time, his doctor has banned him from sports for the foreseeable future. He may face up to two years down time before he can play again, if ever. He played through four concussions and his coach let him.

In small town America, football is a religion. Changing any of the rules about playing, or pulling players out because they got shaken up is frowned upon. However, even though many coaches are resistant to change, the awareness about concussions spreading to every corner of the nation. Small football venues with a coach for the local team are being forced into the mainstream of media awareness about traumatic brain injury.

The tide of media coverage is the harbinger of change. Between 2009 and 2011, the District of Columbia and 33 states passed laws, taking direct aim at preventing concussions in sports involving youth. Another 15 states have legislation on the table this year. Only Arkansas and Montana have done nothing. It’s time for change.

If your child has been involved in a sport that involves a high risk of brain injury, and the coaching staff did not advise them of the risks, or provide them with proper equipment, and they were injured you need to talk to an experienced Austin personal injury lawyer.

Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at or (512) 476-4944.

Schuelke Law maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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